Though the Bauhaus as an institute lasted just 14 years, its far-reaching influence continues to impact artists, architects, and art enthusiasts today. And within the Bauhaus movement, few artists were able to rival Herbert Bayer, the Austrian-American whose works in photography, painting, graphic design, and sculpture continue to influence art and popular culture.
Who Was Herbert Bayer?
Like the Bauhaus movement itself, Bayer’s career was one that spanned disciplines — he was introduced to the Bauhaus as a painter studying under Wassily Kandinsky. And while some of his works, including the dreamlike Ein Vorgang in Blau (A Process in Blue), seem to echo some of Kandinsky’s compositions, Bayer’s paintings have a decidedly modern appeal. And with many of his works sharing geometric designs and bright color gradients, it’s no surprise that Bayer took easily to printing and advertising.
Bayer became the Bauhaus’s chief printing and advertising instructor in 1925, but his influence can be seen in present-day advertising — Facebook, Spotify, and other major websites use a simple, sans-serif typeface reminiscent of Bayer’s Universal typeface (which he developed and used for all official Bauhaus publications). And any quick scan through a series of modern advertisements will show you at least a handful that can be traced back to Bayer’s bright, geometric stylings.
Bayer was an artist who was just as comfortable with the abstract as he was with reality. While he’s probably best known for his enduring contributions to advertising and graphic design, Bayer’s career also extended into the world of fine art photography. Like his other works of visual art, Bayer’s photographs range from dreamlike landscapes to strangely reimagined portraits. In particular, one can see the impact of Dadaism and surrealism in his photographic works.
Like most experimental artists, Bayer saw popular controversy over his work, although his art across genres was critically acclaimed. But perhaps unlike many artists of his time, Bayer remained committed to the practical application of his craft. Upon leaving the Bauhaus at the age of 28, he worked with multiple German media outlets, primarily in the realm of graphic design.
Bayer and Aspen: A Lasting Legacy
In 1938, Herbert Bayer immigrated to United States. And fittingly, he worked with the Museum of Modern Art to design a comprehensive exhibit of the Bauhaus movement. Bayer’s relationship with MoMA was a significant one, but he also formed a somewhat unlikely partnership with the town of Aspen, Colorado.
As someone who felt drawn to mountains, Bayer quickly found a new artistic home in Aspen when he arrived in the 1940s. It was here that he took his artistic career in a new direction — he began working with landscapes in the literal sense. At the Aspen Institute for Humanistic Studies, he created Earth Mound and Marble Garden, which brought together landscape and sculpture. Museum administrator Jan van der Marck called Earth Mound “the first instance on record of landscape as sculpture.”
And now, over 25 years after his death, a new donation to the Aspen Institute ensures that developing artists and those with a passion for art and art history will be able to see Bayer’s work in his beloved Aspen. In December of 2019, a collection of art pieces spanning Bayer’s career was donated to the Institute.
The pieces come from the personal collection of Brit Bayer, the late wife of Herbert Bayer’s stepson. Eventually, the donated pieces — over 13 in total — will be moved to the Aspen Institute’s Resnick Center for Herbert Bayer Studies. This building, made possible by a $10 million donation, will ensure that artists at the institute (as well as visitors) will be able to witness glimpses into Bayer’s illustrious, almost-six-decade career. And whether you’re studying the arts or just want to pay homage to one of the great pioneers of graphic and advertising design, this diverse and well-preserved collection will ensure that you can see Bayer’s work for yourself.